Memory

"I am grown old and my memory is not as active as it used to be. When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened."   

        Mark Twain

Autobiography

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The Pact

My friend proposed a pact. This pact called for us to tell one another when we noticed that we were acting unusual. 

The backstory to his proposal was a vacation. He drove his RV to Palm Springs for a working vacation. While down there, he discovered he was rapidly weakening and losing motor skills and mobility. Rushed to the hospital, they discovered bleeding on his brain. While falling, he'd bumped his head. The resulting injury caused bleeding on his brain. He hadn't known.

We'd noticed him acting differently. He seemed less present, more vacant, lacking his sharp awareness and recital of facts and events. But, in my defense, he was aging, was now 73. When met each week on beer night and drank beer. He'd been experiencing multiple health issues and they were stressing him. How much of his changed behavior we witnessed that night was because of his age, his current health problems, or the beer he imbibed? 

Better safe than sorry, we decided as a group, making the pact. I thought it was a good pact. I wonder with my wife's health how to apportion her health issues to her auto-immune disease, the meds she takes to cope with and mitigate her disease's symptoms and its impact on her body, or aging or new health problems? She's depressed from her continual battle and stressed so they could be causing her more health problems. Her meds and issues keep her from sleeping many nights and then she gets into terrible cycles of staying up late, unable to sleep, arising early without enough sleep, and then going not be able to sleep again because of her meds or because she's too tired. We don't know. She doesn't know. The only solution is to notice and say something and try to understand. 

My wife dislikes it. She's weary of talking about her problems. Talking about it depressing her more. As for the pact, I agreed but wondered if I should mention, this pact has been proposed and accepted before.

In fact, we've made it twice before in the last four months. Does he know he proposed that same thing twice before? Does no one else notice this? It saddens me to think of mentioning it, as I feel like I'm picking on him and the others. They're all highly intelligent people, well educated and accomplished. I'm the token average dumb guy, permitted to be a part because I'm younger and better look. I might lower the group's IQ but I also lower our average and median ages. 

I don't know if I'll mention it. It's another of those conundrums, one of the multiple but small moral and intellectual quagmires faced every day as we strive for balance and understanding. 

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Spit

After all the products I've tried to clean my computer throughout my computer use, which goes back to 1984, I've concluded that human spit is the best cleanser for the keys, mouse and monitor.  To borrow from Brill Creme, just a little dab will do ya.  If you don't understand the Brill Creme reference, Google it.

Mom taught me the miracles of using spit to clean.  When I joined the military, they also highly recommended using your spit to polish your brass and boots.  Spit and tissue, toilet paper if necessary, did a great job of bringing out the brilliance.  Shining your boots in basic was greater than the task but a matter of sitting down together with strangers in your unit and bonding as you buffed, asking one another questions and listening while goading each other into petty competition about having the shiniest shoes. 

There was none of that with Mom.  She was brutal about it.  "What's that on your face?" she'd demand of one of us.  "Come here."  Faster than a striking cobra, she had us in her grip.  Licking a thumb, she would mutter about 'you kids' while she vigorously rubbed the spit loaded thumb against the dirt speck until satisfied you were clean.  Meanwhile, my sisters and I were horrified that Mom was using spit to clean us, but she was doing it in public.  Mom didn't care where she was, and that included grocery and department stores, other people's houses, walking on the streets or in restaurants.  Dirt wasn't abided and spit was the cleanser. 

Her spit cleaning was more than learning about using spit to clean.  From using spit and a thumb because nothing else is available, I learned to improvise.  If I didn’t have what I need, use what I have, think outside of the standard space, explore what else can be done, and use imagination.   

So there I was, staring at my dirty keyboard, fifty plus years removed from Mom spitting on a thumb to clean my skin, licking a finger, rubbing down my computer because, well, I was writing and didn’t want to break away to go get something to clean it with.  That was really usually the case.  I just didn't want to leave the keyboard.  Besides, I had some spit available. Why waste it?

 

The keyboard looks a lot better now.

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The Memory Jar

The memory jar fell over yesterday.  One memory spilled out, spun to a stop and lay still for inspection.  

Don't know how my memory works or why this memory came out.  It was summer.  I was in sixth grade, living in Penn Hills, outside of Pittsburgh, PA.

We had a neat little gang of children on our street, about a dozen of us in 'our neighborhood' that were one or two years up and down from being the same age.  We were classic American suburbia middle class as defined in the early 1970s, neither wealthy nor poor, with enough money to have clothes, food and shelter but lacking the money to go places and do things except as special treats.  Our parents were mostly professionals or small business owners but each managed their dollars.  No child was spoiled by their parents' wealth.

Our neighborhood of ranch, split levels and two story faux colonial homes had no playgrounds or parks.  We did have a wide street and it was pretty level.  All the houses featured two car garages and driveways so no cars parked on the street.  We took the space and made it our space.  The asphalt street became our playground, baseball and football fields.  We marked it with spray paint as needed to define goal lines and bases, arguing and agreeing upon ground rules, like what happened when the ball went where or when a car came by.  A car's interruption meant an automatic do over.

I was an excellent athlete at that age, with wonderful strength, speed, reflexes and coordination, so all these games were fun for me.  The street games with their threats of houses, telephone poles, cars and delivery trucks were an excellent proving ground where I could practice and improve my skills.  

Not every home in the area liked our impromptu set up.  There was one family...the Millers...an aged white man and his matching wife...who did not like our games at all.  They had no children and were retired.  Their brick ranch home's front lawn could inspire songs about meticulous green suburbia lawns.  A ball into their yard, which was essentially short right field, was an automatic out.  Worse, if the ball entered their yard, someone needed to sneak in and get it before the homeowners flew out to seize it and hold it.  They didn't want apologies, they were just annoyed and passing on their annoyance to us. 

It was a neighborhood cold war.

On the fine summer afternoon that spilled out of the memory jar this weekend, my sister was pitching and Bruce was batting.  The game was softball, four on four.  Sis laid it in there and Bruce nailed it - a line drive, not just toward the Miller's yard, but heading for the Miller's front picture window.  Yet, somehow, from the moment Sis released the ball, I knew where it was going.  I'd begun my motion before Bruce swung his bat.  

Time slowed.  The ball left Bruce's bat. I raced across the asphalt and into the no kid zone.  The ball was coming on a fast, waist high arc.  I ran hard, then pulled myself in and leaped horizontally, laying myself out, stretching out my arm and glove, snagging the ball in my glove's upper webbing.  I can still see the glass behind my glove.  

Momentum carried me on.  Without understanding how, I managed to twist, avoid the bushes lining their home's front wall and the house, land on the ground, slide into a tumble, and roll back up onto my feet.  I was now in the side yard and just continued on to the next property on the right.  It was my cousin's house so it was safe.  My knee and elbow were skinned and bleeding and my limbs and clothing were grass stained.  As I strolled up out of my cousin's side yard with the ball in my hand, old man Miller stormed out of the front door, slamming his aluminum screen door behind him.  He rushed to the scene and glared at his window, bushes and grass, and then glared at me from behind his steel rimmed glasses.  I nodded at him but didn't speak.  He didn't speak or nod but whirled and marched back into his house.  

Smiling in victory, I returned to my friends.  The game was suspended as they shared their version of what had happened.  Bruce and John related that, fearing the window was going to be broken, they were already running for sanctuary.  They couldn't believe I'd caught the ball and that I got away unscathed from Mr Miller.

It's a fond reminiscence of a joyous and innocent age.  I don't know why that recollection spilled out this weekend but it's pleasant to discover that not everything stored in the memory jar is a dark moment.  The nostalgia it cast carried me through my day.

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